The Battle in 64 bit Land, 2003 and Beyond

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The Competitive Landscape

The performance of current 64 bit microprocessors as measured by the SPEC CPU 2000 industry standard benchmark suite is shown below in Figure 1. The performance of the fastest Intel and AMD 32 bit x86 processors currently available are also included for reference purposes.

Figure 1 Current 64 Bit MPUs (x86 MPUs shown for reference)

What is particularly striking about Figure 1 is the prominent bimodal division of high end processors into “have” and “have not” camps of uniprocessor performance. It is apparent that only the most technically competent RISC processors can keep up with the blistering performance pace set by 32 bit x86 MPUs. A pace compelled by competitive pressure between Intel and AMD for market share and fueled by bleeding edge semiconductor processes and large, skilled, and well funded design teams.

In the “have not” camp are the sagging “house brand” RISC processor families of SGI, Sun, and HP, namely MIPS, UltraSPARC, and PA-RISC respectively. Although both SGI and HP promise to introduce newer and faster RISC products, the huge and rapidly growing performance gulf between their proprietary processor line and Intel’s IA64 line (which both have adopted as their long term platform) makes one wonder how much effort will actually be expended, and to what result, given the escalating costs of designing competitive high end processors. In contrast Sun has vowed to continue to fight on using its UltraSPARC line of processors. Its inability to bring 0.13 mm devices to market as quickly as IBM has put Sun in an unusually poor competitive position in uniprocessor performance.

In the “have” camp sits Alpha, Itanium 2, POWER4/POWER4+, mainstream desktop x86 processors, and a surprising newcomer, the SPARC64 V. Fujitsu firmly stuck a finger in Sun’s eye by announcing the SPARC64 V at last October’s Microprocessor Forum. This 0.13 mm, out-of-order execution implementation of the 64 bit SPARC architecture easily outperforms the fastest UltraSPARC-III on the SPEC CPU 2k benchmark suite while sporting power dissipation a fraction of devices with comparable performance. IBM’s gamble on a highly automated MPU development process paid off to the extent that it beat its RISC rivals, as well as IA64, to the 0.13 mm process node with its POWER4+.

Despite shipping 0.13 mm x86 devices for about a year, Intel’s first 0.13 mm IA64 MPU, code named Madison, won’t be introduced for another 5 or 6 months. The EV79, a 0.13 mm shrink of the 0.18 mm EV7, will be even later, shipping in about a year.

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